Thanks to Donald Trump, fake news is all the rage lately – literally. I’m talking about the real meaning of the word “literally,” not the fake one even the dictionaries are resigning themselves to since nobody seems to care about the truth. Exactly what is fake news? A local library held a panel discussion with media representatives that I hope everyone in the entire room plus the standing-room-only overflow room plus those watching the live stream on YouTube took to heart. It was such an important discussion that I’m going to summarize what they said, and also add a few comments of my own.
The program was moderated by Betsey, a retired Fox News anchor, with panelists Carol and Alvin, both with distinguished careers on TV and radio as well as with print newspapers; Julie, a professor of media literacy; and Don, a journalist and professor of media law, and the editor of a weekly newspaper.
Betsey started off by saying fake news is not new. She remembers it during the Vietnam War, and I’ve read we had it back during the Korean War, thanks to the then owner of Time magazine. Betsey reminded us our government, of course, has its own spin doctors, like all governments do. This is why we like to have a variety of professional media watchdogs who are not all owned by the same corporation, especially by a hands on type (hello, Sinclair). We want trained professionals and not your neighbor on his personal blog. Reporters are not perfect, but they can be held publicly accountable by media peers and their audiences and will lose their jobs if they outright lie. Carol reminded us there is a big difference between reporters and pundits.
So fake news is disinformation spread on purpose–for fun, to advance an agenda, or to attract readers and therefore make money. It is not news you don’t want to hear because it is against you or goes against your personal bias. If you are a smart person interested in the truth, you will not get all your news from one source—or only from sources slanted to your beliefs. You will not believe everything you hear about a situation unfolding, because no one actually knows what’s going on and people start speculating or giving one point of observation. The truth can take a long time to come out, so avoid pointing fingers and assuming. You will check sources to make sure they are not trolls or full of obvious bias. If a topic is controversial, a good news source will tell the whole story or explain both sides of the story.
Carol and Julie brought up points pertinent to the recent Facebook brouhaha. What you look at and post about on social media dictates what is fed to you. Google knows what you like and will show you other articles (and advertising) that it thinks you will like—news slanted to feed your bias. Also, news sources need ad revenue to exist, so we often see emotionally charged headlines or clever titles used as click bait. Beware of articles and headlines that make you feel upset, because they are often slanted or not telling the whole story. Julie says to understand the point of view of the news source so you can be an aware consumer. Do not read or believe only what you want to believe. Don said do not be a person who thinks “this is my side and I’m sticking to it.” Open your mind, take everything with a grain of salt, and do your research! Don’t be a puppet.
How does this relate to life story and memoir writing? Your stories may have an agenda, too. How are you going to spin your story? Will you make yourself perfect? Will you make yourself a victim? Will you blame someone for all your troubles? Will you write someone as all bad? When you read other peoples’ stories, check for obvious bias and if the author is telling you what to think. Tell the truth as you know it, but let’s look at the whole truth, even if you don’t want to believe it.